My Adventures Publishing Music Abroad

I thought this latest entry may be, if anything, informative (if not amusing) to young composers interested in publishing their music with foreign editors. I have certainly experienced a few adventures recently, publishing a few scores under the Ottorino Respighi Publications series with Edizioni Panastudio in Italy.

My reflection here has very little to do with this or any other foreign publisher, or with the Italian performing rights organization SIAE (Societa’ Italiana Degli Autori ed Editori/Society of Italian Authors and Publishers), but more with the difference in the process involved in publishing abroad.

I should perhaps note that SIAE is affiliated with ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) in the U.S. I am a member of, and register my compositions with, SIAE.

In 2008, I published an homage to Ottorino Respighi called Overtura Respighiana with Panastudio. In 2009, I published my completion of Respighi’s first Violin Concerto in A Major, an invitation I had received by the leading Respighi family affiliates. And that publication was followed by my editions of Respighi’s Aria for strings, and Suite for strings in 2010.

The standard practice in the U.S. calls for composers to register their composition titles with their respective performing rights organization, e.g. ASCAP or BMI etc. That is, provided that the composer’s publisher is based in the U.S.

In recent times, registering composition titles means simply that, registering only titles and not submitting copies of the original or printed manuscript. I don’t know exactly when the process was changed or updated to the current practice in the U.S., but in Europe (at least in Italy) I can account for the fact that the old tradition is still in effect to this very day.

In Italy, a composer or the office of the publisher (on behalf of the composer) must submit a copy of each original score to be published with the local SIAE office, along with the proper application and documentation. In normal circumstances involving original scores, this is by no means uncommon. But, with the above mentioned Respighi editions, the European process can be challenging at times. I imagine that similar scrutiny would probably apply to cases involving the publication of transcriptions in the U.S.

Registering Overtura Respighiana was, naturally, not an issue, as it is an original work only in homage to other composers, Respighi and also Rossini. However, the Violin Concerto was an entirely different story.

First, I submitted a copy of my completed manuscript and printed scores to the publisher. Then the fun began…. The publisher registered (as mentioned above) a copy of the Concerto manuscript and printed score with its local SIAE office in Palermo. Shortly thereafter, the central SIAE office in Rome requested information to fully document the nature of my work in completing the Concerto. This was followed by a SIAE request for the autograph Respighi manuscript. Lastly, I received a SIAE request to submit a copy of Respighi’s piano reduction of the extant third movement introduction.

What’s going on here? Basically, a SIAE “commission” (or committee) is organized to review all materials when a composer, editor, arranger or orchestrator publishes a work of a previous composer, whether the work itself is public domain or not. The committee’s review is not specifically musicological in nature but rather, a general research process to confirm authenticity of authorship. The entire process, from beginning to end, took about sixteen months. Just when the publisher and I thought the process was over, SIAE would request additional verification.

Similar events detail the review process for the Aria, and the Suite for strings. Step by step, all of the same happenings repeated themselves. Deja vu. Countless requests for autograph manuscripts, printed scores, explanations of compositional plans, letters of verification from the late composer in question – This is a lesson to young composers: Get it in writing!

What is the lesson here? Don’t publish your music in Europe? Well, maybe not that. But be sure you are passionately and artistically invested in those works you wish to publish overseas, especially if the occassion involves the music of other well known or major composers.

Salvatore Di Vittorio
Music Director, Chamber Orchestra of NY